Here’s a riddle: What do Chael Sonnen and Urijah Faber have in common?
At first glance, not much. Sure, they both coached a season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” but there are plenty of UFC fighters that can list that among their credentials. One is a loud-mouthed Oregonian with a controversial history of testosterone replacement therapy and unethical business practices, and the other is a care-free Californian and Team Alpha Male figurehead. The two were separated by 70 lbs. on Saturday night, and they exhibit very different public personas.
Sonnen and Faber both find themselves devoid of any clear path toward another shot at UFC gold, despite their ability to kill off top contenders across two different weight classes.
Urijah Faber was the first big star of the WEC, as he dominated the featherweight division while running up a 21-1 career record with 17 stoppages. However, he has been unable to call himself a world champion ever since a surprise TKO loss to Mike Brown back in 2008. This weekend’s performance keeps his name right at the top of the list of bantamweight contenders, but there are only so many title opportunities the UFC can allot someone before their fan base grows weary. Faber has gone 0-5 in championships bouts dating back to his first match against Brown, but during this same span he has a perfect 8-0 record in non-title fights.
Few competitors in any major sport have found themselves so close, and yet so far from contention. What do you do with a guy who can’t win the title, but is able to knock off all the other top contenders? Faber has already come up short against current featherweight champion Jose Aldo, as well as bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and interim-bantamweight champion Renan Barao. The most appealing option would be a decisive rubber-match against Cruz, but with the champion needing to first unify the belts after his two year injury layoff this fight isn’t close to being made.
And this brings us back to Mr. Sonnen. Regardless of the criticism he receives for being “all talk,” the man can fight. His dominant performance over Mauricio Rua on Saturday night was his first victory in over a year, having fallen short in consecutive title fights against Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. In similar fashion to Faber, Sonnen has been able to dispatch of other top contenders, including Michael Bisping, Brian Stann, Nate Marquardt, and Yushin Okami, and hasn’t lost a non-title fight since 2009. While he proved that he still deserves his spot near the top of the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions, the UFC won’t be clamoring to give him another title shot. He had nothing to offer Jones in their first matchup, and it will be some time before the Silva-Weidman saga plays out. While there are still exciting matches to make for him against Wanderlei Silva and his fellow Brazilian brethren, he is in championship limbo in both of the divisions he has competed in.
Like Urijah Faber, Sonnen will be hard-pressed to make his case for another title opportunity. For him, a win over a big name like Vitor Belfort or Lyoto Machida may be his only opportunity to put his name back into contention.